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Is “So” the intellectual equivalent of Valley Girl “like”
Posted: 22 November 2008 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]
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So I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this but doesn’t it seem as though like a lot of really smart people are starting all their sentences with the word “so” lately wink. I listen to lot of podcasts that are tech or science oriented ( Geekbrief, NPR’s Science Friday, SciAm, DLTV, and of course Point of Inquiry among others) and I have noticed an mildly irritating trend. Many of the guests on these shows answer questions by starting there sentences with the word “so”.

Example

Interviewer: Dr. ( insert name), could you please explain to us how the ribosome uses RNA to produce a protein molecule

Dr. (Insert name):  So, when the RNA….

I am by no means a grammar freak and I make my fair share of grammatical errors, but it seems like an entire population of very intelligent people is developing this speech pattern. If you watch an interview in any non-science format you won’t see the same tendency. Anyone else out there notice this or catch themselves doing the same thing?

What’s that all about??

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I noticed that with an old friend of mine a couple of years ago. He would begin most of his sentences with “So, ...” But it’s usually when he’s in ‘teaching’ mode, or laying out what he believes about something.

It’s a verbal tic, like “like”, as you noted. Interesting how these memes catch on.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It’s an informal speech pattern that provides segues from one idea to another, or indicates a natural progression of ideas.  If we didn’t have “so,” or “like,” or “well,” etc., I’d imagine that speech would be more direct, and as a consequence might seem to forward or abrupt.  That’s my interpretation, anyhow.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 04:17 PM

It’s an informal speech pattern that provides segues from one idea to another, or indicates a natural progression of ideas.  If we didn’t have “so,” or “like,” or “well,” etc., I’d imagine that speech would be more direct, and as a consequence might seem to forward or abrupt.  That’s my interpretation, anyhow.

Well, but this isn’t really a segue, it’s an introduction, like “Well, ...” As you note, it’s sort of a verbal throat-clearing.

What’s interesting about it is that it appears to be relatively novel. At least, I hadn’t noticed it so much until the last few years, and yes, in relatively technical fields generally.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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OK, so let’s come up with a list of other euphemisms for “uh”:

Accordingly,
Therefore,
Which leads me to believe that,
In other words,
Which naturally leads to the conclusion that,
Hence
Notwithstanding anything I have already mentioned on this topic prior to today,
At this point in time,
Some believe that
Thus,

See? No “So” to do!

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Posted: 22 November 2008 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 22 November 2008 04:53 PM
Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 04:17 PM

It’s an informal speech pattern that provides segues from one idea to another, or indicates a natural progression of ideas.  If we didn’t have “so,” or “like,” or “well,” etc., I’d imagine that speech would be more direct, and as a consequence might seem to forward or abrupt.  That’s my interpretation, anyhow.

Well, but this isn’t really a segue, it’s an introduction, like “Well, ...” As you note, it’s sort of a verbal throat-clearing.

Verbal throat clearing, I like that.  Actually, I tend to do it when I want there to be a specific number of syllables in what I’m saying so that it sounds more pleasing, similar to the way that I try to use assonance, dissonance, sibilance, etc.  Then again, this might be because I’m more literarily inclined and am aware of rhetoric in everyday speech, perhaps moreso than most.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Chris Crawford - 22 November 2008 04:58 PM

Accordingly,
Therefore,
Which leads me to believe that,
In other words,
Which naturally leads to the conclusion that,
Hence
Notwithstanding anything I have already mentioned on this topic prior to today,
At this point in time,
Some believe that
Thus,

But these intros usually belong in the middle of an argument or thought process. You wouldn’t begin an entirely new train of thought with “Accordingly”, “Therefore” or “Which leads me to believe that”, etc.

The odd thing with “So, ...” in this context is that it’s used to introduce something novel. “So” is normally used in the middle of a train of thought, e.g., “I had to go home, SO I took the train”, or “So I left.”

This context is different. It introduces a train of thought, like this:

“So, I was going to the park and I saw this pigeon.”

Or,

“So, the new computers out this year are particularly interesting.”

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Posted: 22 November 2008 09:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I agree that many of us use non-sense words to give us an extra second to organize our thoughts, and this becomes habitual.  I find that when I write a post, I often begin with “and” or some similar word.  Then, I go back and delete as many of the excess words as I can catch before I submit it. 

There is another, similar verbal problem.  When I was a graduate student, I needed a job and got one working nights at in the material research department at an aerospace company.  There was a fellow who was a metallurgist who had gone back and got himself a PhD in physics.  For some reason he liked to discuss his ideas with me during the two hour shift overlap.  However, I couldn’t understand a damned thing he was talking about.  That is, until I finally figured out his procedure.  He would see me come in, get up from his desk, start internally verbalizing about the topic, walk the fifty feet, reach me, then begin to talk three paragraphs into his idea.  I learned to stay quiet until he had said enough that I could get some indication of what he was talking about and catch up. 

Had he used enough “valley girl” words in the beginning, by the time he reached me, he’d have been at the beginning when he started to vocalize.

Occam

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Posted: 23 November 2008 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Those are some interesting thoughts. The thing that I find most interesting about this is that you see it almost exclusively among science minded people. Very bright people in other fields like literature or politics ( is that possible?) don’t seem to do this. Their speech patterns seem devoid of this little quirk. I think that this verbal virus has spread among the science community because we spend a lot of time listening to each other speak and more and more of us have inadvertently assimilate this characteristic without realizing it. I don’t think this is a conscious thing. I think subconsciously our brain is thinking ” That person is really smart and starts of his paragraphs with the word so. I’m going to do that as well so I sound smart too.”

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Posted: 23 November 2008 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m wondering if there is any regional difference here. I agree there are lots of filler sounds like this, but I don’t have the same subjective impressions about “So” as expressed here. Maybe that’s just random chance, but could it be an East Coast phenomenon so far?

For me, “Well…” is the usual starter.

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Posted: 23 November 2008 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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mckenzievmd - 23 November 2008 08:58 AM

I’m wondering if there is any regional difference here. I agree there are lots of filler sounds like this, but I don’t have the same subjective impressions about “So” as expressed here. Maybe that’s just random chance, but could it be an East Coast phenomenon so far?

For me, “Well…” is the usual starter.

I don’t use “So, ...” as a starter either, at least not yet. It’s true that the friend of mine who uses it is on the east coast, although he did his graduate work out in California. What we need is a linguist here with some regional data ...

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Posted: 23 November 2008 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Chris Crawford - 22 November 2008 04:58 PM

OK, so let’s come up with a list of other euphemisms for “uh”:

Accordingly,
Therefore,
Which leads me to believe that,
In other words,
Which naturally leads to the conclusion that,
Hence
Notwithstanding anything I have already mentioned on this topic prior to today,
At this point in time,
Some believe that
Thus,

See? No “So” to do!

How about “also”? Actually, I say this with Sarah Palin in mind. Gosh, she should take a tip from your list! If I did a shot of alcohol for every time she says also during an interview, I’d be a member of AA.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qophEpQuC9E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeQkAlmGzm4&feature=related

[ Edited: 23 November 2008 10:00 AM by T. Ruth ]
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Posted: 23 November 2008 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I wish I could recall the exact quotation, but it goes something like, “Be sure brain is in gear before putting mouth in motion.”  Possibly, the reason people in other fields don’t use these starter words is that their brains are on automatic pilot so they don’t need to think before talking.  LOL

I recently attended my 60th high school reunion and sat with a high school friend who had become a physicist.  He starts every sentence with “so”, however, I recall that he had precisely the same verbal quirk over sixty years ago.  So, smile maybe it isn’t a recent phenomenon.

Occam

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Posted: 23 November 2008 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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“So” is not as bad as “like” because people “like” put “like” in the middle of “like” sentences. It is “like” filler because “like” the people “like” have nothing “like” to say. “So”, I think “So” is not as bad because it isn’t used as filler but just a way of starting a sentence.

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Posted: 23 November 2008 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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While a teenager, I used “anyway” as the meaningless sentence starter, but in my 20s I realized just how bad that was, so I eliminated it from my behavior. But surely there is a more erudite term that could be used here—something that says, “I’m just as stupid as the next guy, but I can express my stupidity more elegantly.” Something Latin or Greek, perhaps? Latin ‘sic’ or ‘ita’ would do the job. How about “bee tee double-u”, a four-syllable expression of an Internet acronym of a three-syllable phrase? It’s so much more techie than a plain old “by the way”. How about the British “I say”—anything British makes you sound smart. But that’s too affected an expression. How about something direct: “I’m thinking…” or “please stand by” or even a nice extended “uhhhhhh”. You could give it some self-deprecatory emphasis by simply saying “Duhhhh….” before beginning your sentence. That would work especially well if you sprinkle some inkhorn terms through your sentence. It might work to simply insert any of the multitude of exclamatory expressions: yipes, good grief, dear-dear, cripes, lawd-a-mercy, or one of the ever-popular four-letter expletives (have you ever noticed that liberals seem much more given to peppering their language with the four-letter expletives than conservatives?) Examples:

F*ck, it’s a lovely day, isn’t it?
F*ck, how are you doing?
F*ck, I often wonder about the size of the universe.

Of course, the more creative types like to re-arrange word positions, as in:

It’s a lovely f*cking day, isn’t it?
How the f*ck are you doing?
I often wonder about the size of the f*cking universe.

But that doesn’t address our problem of finding alternatives to “so”. How about some playful approaches: sue, soy, anywhy, be the way, bay the wee, why the bay, new yo…

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Posted: 23 November 2008 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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FWIW, this seems to be a universal linguistic behavior. “Pues” in Spanish, “Also” in German, “Calo” in Indonesion are a few examples I’ve run across that serve the same function. Maybe it’s a way of holding the floor while organizing your thoughts. If you just sit there and look thoughtful, someone else is likley to start talking and you miss your window. I wonder is sign language speakers have a gestural equivalent?

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